Lovely summer cozy

Title: Murder Comes Calling (#7) by C.S. Challinor Publisher: Midnight Ink, 216 p

Genre: Cozy, English mystery, mystery, golden age classic

4 stars

Author:

Challinor was born in the US but educated in Scotland and England ( joint Homs in Latin and French). She currently lives in SW Florida. Her cozy mystery series featuring Scottish barrister Rex Graves begins with: Christmas is Murder (September 2008, Midnight Ink Books, a Kindle best seller), Murder in the Raw (2009), Phi Beta Murder (2010), Murder on the Moor (2011), Murder of the Bride (2012, a Mystery Guild book club pick), Murder at the Dolphin Inn (2013, PPLM, Inc.) I particularly enjoy the understated humour and banter between Rex and Helen.

Story Line:

Four unexpected and seemingly unconnected murders occur in the quiet English village of Notting Hamlet, each body discovered by a neighbor Malcolm Patterson (retired pathologist). He calls on his old school friend barrister and amateur sleuth Rex Graves to investigate the crimes as he fears he is being framed. As Rex’s disapproving fiancée is away on a cruise, Rex decides to help. With his photographic memory and penchant for the smallest detail, Rex has developed a reputation as a credible sleuth/detective. 

These are classic English cozies in the style of the Golden Age of mysteries. They can be read alone, although there is logical progression of personal development. They are all fun quick reads, perfect for a summer day, train travel, bedtime or beach read. I look forward to more entertaining cases with delicious red herrings.

Read On:

Anne Cleeland, Deborah Crombie, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, MC Beaton

Quotes:

I love Rex Graves’ Curriculum Vitae from her website http://www.rexgraves.com:

Reginald “Rex” Graves QC

Year of Call: 1985

Year of Silk: 2003 

Rex Graves graduated with a first in law from Edinburgh University in 1981, trained as a solicitor with the international firm of Browne, Quiggley and Squire from 1982 to 1984, devilled for the Hon. Lord Ferguson and W. Iain Reid QC from 1984-1985, and became an advocate in 1985 and Queen’s Counsel in 2003. He specializes in criminal litigation and prosecutes at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh.

Personal Biography: 1959, born in Edinburgh to Mr. Colin Graves (deceased) and Mrs. Moira Ann Graves, née Thorpe, currently residing in Morningside, Edinburgh. Rex attended Fettes College, where he was president of the Debating Society and proved an absolute flop at polo. 

1987, married his beloved Fiona May Gillespie, whom he ultimately loses to breast cancer.

1988, son Campbell born, presently attending Hilliard University in Florida where he is studying marine science and pursuing an independent study in birds of the non-feather variety.

2006, meets Helen d’Arcy, a student counselor in Derby, England and solves his first private case, the Swanmere Manor Murders. 

Hobbies include Sudoku and crossword puzzles; reading Latin—the dustier the volume, the better; hiking; whisky tastings; and American food. He has a morbid fear of horses and going nude on public beaches, and is allergic to cats and snobs. 

Physical Description: 6′ 4″, stocky build, red hair, ginger beard, green eyes. He is often found with pipe in hand (though trying to quit) and a skeptical look on his face. When not wearing court wig and gown, he prefers a tweed jacket, corduroys, and Hush Puppies.

  
Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

American History

Title: An Empire on the Edge Nick Bunker Publisher: Knopf Doubleday 350 p

Genre: history, American Revolution, colonies, Great Britain

4.5 stars

Author:

Nick Bunker lives in Lincolnshire, England and is the author of Making Haste from Babylon (previously reviewed here). He has been a journalist for the Liverpool Echo and the Financial Times. Bunker uses his financial background and research skills to cleverly reveal underlying causes and personal details. This book won the 2015 George Washington Book Prize sponsored by Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Story Line:

This is a probing, highly readable account of Great Britain’s internal, political and financial tensions on the eve of the American Revolution. There were a number of concurrent crises in the Empire: Europe, India, Ireland and the American colonies. Each is given an assessment, with a particularly insightful analysis of the East India Trading Company. Fascinating correspondence reveals that Britain saw the colonies as mere resources/goods for their empire or a destination for convicts. They didn’t just underestimate the people, they never understood their independent nature.  

This book does not sum up entire aspects of the revolution, but it provides another element, an indepth analysis of important factors. It is well researched from a British perspective, which helps to provide an balanced account: rounding out and adding details, providing a clearer picture with motives and mistakes (both sides). I was surprised by number of current comparisons with e-banking and 2008 financial crisis.  I enjoyed the fascinating portraits of Prime Minister Lord North, of Lord Dartmouth, King George III, General Gage and the Governor of Massachusetts Thomas Hutchinson.

They might have lost the war and lost the colonies, but Britain went on to develop the industrial revolution, global exploration, and India.

This would make a lovely Christmas present and gift for historian or revolutionary war aficionado. I encourage you to read this interesting history. RPL has a copy.

Read On:

Bernard Bailyn Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson

Robert Middlekauff The Glorious Cause 

Barbara Tuchman The First Salute

David Hackett Fischer Washington’s Crossing, Liberty and Freedom

Quote:

England never had a solid plan for administering the American colonies.

Benign neglect can lead to revolution.

Recently, I was just lucky enough to see the new acquisition at the MMAM (Minnesota marine art museum) of George Washington Crossing the Delaware (Leutze, 1850). This painting previously hung in the West Wing, and is one of only two surviving copies. The original (1848) was destroyed by the British RAF in WWII “Britain’s final retaliation for the American Revolution”. It is a very stylized, historically inaccurate painting of the beginning of the Battle of Trenton December 25/26, 1776: the boat is the wrong model, the crossing was at night, not in daylight, the weather conditions were appalling (drizzle, rain, sleet and snow), the flag didn’t exist yet (carried by James Monroe), the river is modeled on the Rhine not the Delaware, which had a narrow crossing and sheet ice. Washington is standing, which would have rocked the boat (although higher sides would have had them all standing). With the exception of Washington, Monroe and Gen Edward Hand, the people in the boat represent the cross section of the American colonies: farmers, western riflemen, Scots, women, Native American frontiersmen, African American (believed to be Whipple, but now known not to have been there (portraits modeled from American tourists in Germany).  

from wikipedia

 See also NJ state quarter 1999.

Chilling Summer Read

Title: Eeny Meeny by M.J. ArlidgePublisher: NAL/ Penguin 422 p (June 2015, USA)

Genre: thriller, suspense, police procedural, British mystery, England,

4 stars

Author:

Arlidge is a British author who worked in television for 15 years (Torn, The Little House, Undeniable and Silent Witness). Eeny Meeny is his debut, but several others are planned in this series. It was the UKs best selling crime debut (2014). The second mystery will be released in October Pop Goes the Weasel followed by The Doll’s House and Liar Liar.

Story Line:

This murder mystery is set in Southampton, a typical English inner city. Bodies appear, but worse are the traumatized survivors. It is a race to uncover clues before the next victim, while also dealing with police procedures. DI Grace is driven to see justice done for the victims as she  

 is also a survivor, damaged but determined with a complicated past. A cop I’d like to be working for me, on my side. 

There is a good supporting cast, each well described and pertinent. I will look forward to their expanding roles and developing personal relationships as the series continues. These are thinking characters and complicated monsters. It says something that with his level of violence and terror, the worst of human nature, that it is all too believable.  

The writing is taut, spare and visual. Each chapter is short (several pages, but on the kindle I didn’t notice this. I was also turning the pages faster and faster.). There are several twists and turns and unexpected, truly frightening sequences. It is a terrifyingly compulsive read. You won’t forget this book and the series for a long time.

Don’t read this if you are kept awake by gore, psychopaths, abuse and violence. I was glad I was on a plane in a safe environment, during the day with all the lights on.

Expect nightmares. What would you do?

Read On:

Ruth Rendell, PDJames, Peter Robinson, John Connolly, Colin Dexter

Watch: Luther, Dexter, MI5

Quotes:

Opening: Sam is asleep. I could kill him now….would he just be glad that this nightmare was over? I can’t think like that. I must try to remember what is real, what is good. But when you’re a prisoner, the days seem endless and hope is the first thing to die.

There is no peace for those who shed the blood of those closest to them.

For the first time in her life Helen Grace couldn’t answer. Yes or no, guilty or not guilty, Helen Grace always had an answer.

Sometimes in life you have to bite the hand that feeds you. 

She had chosen the name Grace because of its redemptive association and Helen because of her maternal grandmother. It would feel profoundly odd and unsettling to have anyone call her by her real name.

Place a hold now, the library has a copy.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you! Except that I will have nightmares and won’t reread this. Still, is the next one available for review?

The last of the Summer Reads

Title: House of Hawthorne by Erika RobuckPublisher: NAL/Penguin. 402 p. May 2015

Genre: biographical historical fiction, literary fiction

4 stars narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Author:

Robuck is the bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl as well as several other novels : Fallen Beauty (poetess Edna St Vincent Millay, 2014), Call me Zelda (2013), Receive me Falling (2009). Each of her books is well researched, and her writing style is appropriate for the subject period. She is a member of the Hawthorne Society, Hemingway Society, Edna St Vincent Millay Society and the Historical Novel Society.

Story Line:

Evident from the title, this is the story of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia Peabody. The story is told primarily from her perspective as a fictionalized memoir (b1809-d1871). She is looking back on a rather tumultuous life from the 1830s to the Civil War. She was the invalid of the famous intellectual/artistic Peabody sisters, with crippling headaches but she became a powerful muse, inspiring he always financially struggling Hawthorne. But she was also a gifted amateur artist in her own right (painter and illustrator, as well as author of her journals) and married life was both a grand passion and a burden. She gives up so much for his happiness, yet knows more joy than her childhood allowed her to dream. There are timeless gender questions of identity and self expression. There is an interesting look at the 19th century intellectual class with romanticism, transcendentalism, women’s independence/social reform. She outlived Hawthorne by 7 years, was buried in London, reburied in Sleepy Hollow next to her husband (2006).

There are lovely glimpses of Thoreau, Melville, Emerson, Fuller and others as well as interesting travel details of life in England, Portugal, Italy and New England. Having read Marshall and Capper, I found her writing style rather emotional and idealistic. But I enjoyed the charming period prose, in this first book I have read of hers. It won’t be the last as I already have Hemingway’s Girl and am intrigued by Fallen Beauty.

The Rochester Public Library has both book and audio version.

Read On:

Lynn Cullen Mrs Poe

Naomi Wood Mrs Hemingway

Paula McLain The Paris Wife

Elizabeth Berg The Dream Lover

Nathaniel Hawthorne House of Seven Gables, Twice Told Tales, Scarlet Letter

NF: Megan Marshall The Peabody Sisters Charles Capper Margaret Fuller

Quotes:

He has fought the coils and stain of the black weave of his forefathers. Even changing the spelling of his surname.

Nathaniel’s need for elevation inspired the tower of the third floor of our home The Wayside…. The only home we have ever owned…the dear rooms have embraced our family…now hosts a stubborn ghost. 

The courtship letters, the marriage journal, the sketches and pressed flowers brought back from the places we traveled….artifacts from our past that are calling to me, urging me to look for something that I do not know is missing.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!
  

Chilling thriller

Title: A Song of Shadows by John Connolly (448 pp)
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton Atria/Emily Bestler (Sept 29,2015)

Genre: mystery, thriller, suspense, supernatural, Maine

5 stars

Author:

Irish author John Connolly studied English in Trinity College, Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University, and began working as a freelance journalist for The Irish Times newspaper. He continues to interview authors, which are on his website, http://www.johnconnollybooks.com.

I will never forget reading the award winning (Shamus) first story, completely hooked by the first chapter. Every Dead Thing (1999), took five years to write. It introduced the anti-hero Charlie Parker, a former policeman hunting the killer of his wife and daughter. Dark Hollow (2000) The Killing Kind (2001) The White Road (2002) The Black Angel (2005). Charlie Parker has since appeared in five additional novels: The Unquiet, The Reapers (where he plays a secondary role to his associates, Louis and Angel), The Lovers, The Whisperers, and The Burning Soul, The Wrath of Angels (2013). A Song of Shadows is the 12th Parker novel.

Other works include: The Book of Lost Things, non-mystery novel, a stand-alone book – Bad Men (2004) and Nocturnes (many read of BBC Radio4), a collection of novellas and short stories Night Music, a second Nocturnes will be published this year. His YA books: The Gates (2009) launched the Samuel Johnson series, followed by Hell’s Bells (UK)/The Infernals (US 2011) The Creeps (2013). He is also the co-editor, with Declan Burke, of Books to Die For, an anthology of essays from the world’s top crime writers in response to the question, “Which book should all lovers of crime fiction read before they die?” This book won both the Agatha and the Anthony Awards for best nonfiction (2012/2013). 

Story Line:

This is one of the most impressive crime series, meticulous researched. The writing is superb, every page lyrical and well crafted. The characters are richly detailed, personal and anticipated. I want their stories, their histories, their interactions. You cannot start with this book. 

I read the British version seconds after overseas shipping arrived, exceedingly grateful a lovely friend knows my reading passion. I read the Netgalley e-version to savor the story again. I will perhaps never reread the previous novel (Wolf in Winter), having barely survived the first intense reading. The sequence of events is so much more poignant, traumatic, unexpected and unnerving when these books are read in order. I rejoice at this new installment as well as its future promise.

Charlie Parker is gradually recovering from the traumatic injuries sustained in his last case, but is now a man with a mission and a greater understanding of his role in the world. Parker investigates local murders that are connected to a WWII Nazi concentration camp in Lubko. Seven decades have passed but the crimes still haunt and tragically carry forward. I am delighted Louis and Angel still have his back. That his daughters are central to his being. That Parker exists in our world. Connolly is a highlight of my fictional year.

Read On:

Connolly recommends Ross Macdonald, James Lee Burke and Ed McBain as inspirational.

Quotes:

Opening line: Winter dead, spring dying, and summer waiting in the wings.

One tall and black, the other shorter and whiter, although Soames thought he might have been Latino, or part Latino, or parts lots of things, most of them problematical. (Security consultants, Louis and Angel)

You drive like you got Miss Daisy in the back, said Angel, as they made stately progress west. ….the internal combustion engine is wasted on you.

They (the townspeople) became strangely protective of him…perhaps it was something to do with his past: he was a man who had lost a wife and child, and had suffered grievous injury just for doing his job which, as far as anyone could tell, largely involved putting his mark on the kind of men and women without whom the world was a much better place.

What man offers in heroism on the field of battle, woman equals with unending perseverance and sacrifice (quoting one of Hitler’s maxim)

…beyond (the reach of) any written law, any human justice. But that was not the only Justice.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!
  
 

Cozy Auld Reekie

Summer is all about fun reads. I have a stack to read when it is too hot to do much else, have travel (planes, trains or automobiles) or just want to relax. Cozy mysteries often fit the bill as they have an uncomplicated mystery, a little romance and are generally fast reads (short or simple). This was a delightful read, taking place in my favourite August place (think Edinburgh Festival)!
Title: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Marty Wingate

Publisher: Random House/Alibi. 276 pp

Genre: cozy, mystery, english mystery, British mystery, Scotland. 3.5 stars

Author:

Marty Wingate is the author of The Potting Shed mysteries: The Garden Plot, The Red Book of Primrose House, and Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Her new mystery series, Birds of a Feather: The Rhyme of the Magpie was published June 2015.  Marty writes about gardening in the PNW and travel (she also gives European garden tours). She can be heard on A Dry Rain (adryrain.net), a free podcast available on iTunes. Wingate is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, as well as the Royal Horticultural Society and the Garden Writers Association. Her enthusiasm for flowers and gardening has created a lovely, entertaining series. Be careful downloading titles, as there are a dozen books with this title; kindle price is quite reasonable.

Story line: The Potting Shed Mysteries take place in Britain (England and now Scotland), where master gardener Pru Parke has transplanted herself. In the first book, Pru (short for Prunella) of course finds a body in her odd job but is introduced to DCI Christopher Pearse. There is a developing romantic relationship throughout the three books with both characters in their 50s. In the second book on Primrose house, they have a long distance relationship as she has found her dream job at an 18th century Manor house in Sussex. In this delightful installment Between a Rock and a Hard Place, once again the couple part, but this time to be married in three months, just after she finishes her next job. Pru is off to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to determine if a newly discovered document is indeed a lost journal of an 18th century plant collector (Archibald Menzies). There are of course bodies, politics, sinister characters but hysterical wedding plans. And memorable secondary characters (especially Tamsin Duncan, Mrs Murchie, and Murdo) which make for a charming read. Pru is an interesting protagonist, becoming more confident and at home in her newly adopted country. These books are the definition of cosy: fast easy reads, delightful secondary characters, solvable mystery and fun. There is a nice blend of history, gardening and romance. I was glad it wasn’t a long wait until the third book. If you haven’t read them, read in order as one summer beach read.  

Of course I must leave you with a few details on Archibald Menzies (please remember there are few if any “z” sounds in scottish and this surname sounds more like “Ming ess” (Which also explains why many tourists can’t find the stationers shop when the locals, plus accent, direct them.)) Menzies is often overlooked as a plant collector as there have been so many other great scottish botanists (especially David Douglas, further reading). Menzies (from Perthshire) trained as a surgeon at the University of Edinburgh, but was descended from a long line of botanists and gardeners (all four brothers, father, grandfather). He was also an explorer, part of many ship expeditions (China, Hawaii, PNW, West Indies) as surgeon, naturalist and or botanist. His later voyage with Cpt Vancouver on the HMS Discovery are recorded in fantastic, detailed journals documenting an explorers life. These are held by the British Museum. (Some interesting excerpts online). He introduced to Europe a real dinosaur tree: the monkey puzzle tree (Auracaria sp). To say nothing of rhododendrons. RBGE has fantastic collections of these plants. I visit annually.

Read on:

If you like Rosemary and Thyme, Murder She Wrote or Agatha Christie 

Wingate is recommended for readers of Laura Childs, Ellery Adams, Laura McKinlay or Mary Daheim.

For historical plant collectors:

Carolyn Fry The Plant Hunters (2013)

Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner, Will Musgrave The Plant Hunters (1998)

Tyler Whittle The Plant Hunters (1997)

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Chilling summer read

Title: Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs (number 18)Publisher: Bantam (July 2015) 320 pp. 4 stars 

 Genre: mystery, series, crime, suspense

Author:

Kathy Reichs, is a multitalented, fascinating woman with two full time careers: forensic anthropologist and writer. Her credentials include: vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists; member of the RCMP National Police Services Advisory Council (Canada); forensic anthropologist to the province of Quebec; and professor of forensic anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Her first book, Deja Dead, won the 1997 Ellis award for best first novel. She is also a producer of the TV series Bones. This is the eighteen mystery featuring Dr Temperance Brennan. I also like her YA mysteries, featuring Tory Brennan: Virals, Seizure, Code, Exposure and Terminal. Her novels are fast paced, clever and should be read in order. I am often a stickler for reading a series in order, but the early books are extremely well written and provide relevant background. Ignore the television series. http://www.kathyreichs.com.

Story Line:

After the previous novel, I was ready to continue the series for an expected presence of old blue eyes. Indeed Tempe has a plane ticket, hours away from visiting him. She’s getting cold feet and becomes absorbed in a chilling web sleuthing tale. It is vicious, compelling and easier to deal with than complicated relationships. These tales are devolving into soap operas for me and I am tired of such a strong female character, dithering, claiming to be independent while needy. Predictably, she gets into serious trouble on her own. How realistic is it to believe we can always take care of ourselves, alone, given the scale of the bad guys she deals with? It makes us complex, but she should have insight into her psyche by now. And give Ryan credit for understanding her given his own history. Perhaps character development suitable to their ages?

But as always I learn a great deal from these novels. Web sleuthing was unknown to me. Another genetic disorder provides clever clues. Astonished/appalled at the sheer numbers of missing persons (90,000) and unidentified remains (40,000). These books are extremely detail oriented with politics, crime lab routines, science, real people in all walks of life and emotional impact. 

This story takes place a few months after the last, and Canadian detective Andrew Ryan’s marriage proposal. Temperance Brennan is a consulting forensic anthropologist for Mecklenberg Co., NC. A horrific recording sets the North Carolina story in motion as cyber sleuth Lucky (Hazel) Strike believes it to be a missing girl. Except no one is looking for her. I like that Tempe can’t let the dead be forgotten, and that she is confident of her abilities. Tempe has a great sense of humour and I wish I would remember her zingers and apply them. Nothing is as it seems, yet everything is credible and fast paced. There is murder, mayhem, haunting, dismemberment, skeletal remains, personal, assault, religious fanaticism/zealots, backwoods cults, exorcism, decent county cops and family drama. Katy is in Afghanistan, Birdie is still overweight, and Mama has a beau.

A great summer read.

Read On:

Jefferson Bass, Patricia Cornwell or a favourite of mine: Simon Beckett (Chemistry of Dealth, Written in Bone, Calling of the Grave)

Quotes:

Please don’t kill me.

Please don’t kill me.

Please.

Kill me.”

“She sure as hell was speaking in blood.”

“You know Doc, when speaking in bones, you’re pretty good.”

“But you are a couple of such elegance.”
Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!